Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In Response to "Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk"

Jayce and his grand-dad
A fellow adoptive mom recently posted this article, and I re-posted it on my FaceBook page. I thought it was a well written, brief foray into a topic that every mom of a black son thinks about. Whether or not those moms agree with what the article presents, the topic as a whole is not far from our minds. You can take a moment and read the article here:

Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk

A family member shared the article, and asked me to respond to some of the comments she received.

The gist of the article presents the real fear that our black sons and daughters will be stopped, harassed, humiliated and humbled by the police and others simply because of their black skin. A panel of 10 black moms in the article present the advice they give their sons while out of the home: be respectful all the time, be prepared to be frisked, be prepared to be stopped, don't run, don't go places in groups, etc etc. These women share the truth that 

"it doesn't matter about your college degree, the car you drive, the street you live on... It's not going to shield your child like a Superman cape."

I understand that many people will not share the views of the women in the article, nor will they agree with my perspective.  That's ok. I confess, I don't have years of personal experience in this area, but I am an adoptive mom with two beautiful black kids, and this is an issue that affects me and my family.  A friend also pointed out that many of the issues raised in the above article are not as prevalent in many parts of the country.  What might not be in issue here in the Northwest may be a huge issue in the Southeast. Still, the ideas presented are still relevant and my children still need to be aware of the potential results of their actions and attitudes. 

Sissy feeding her brother-- 2-year-old love

A friend has a son with Down Syndrome that they adopted several years ago.  She encounters people that are genuinely curious what it's like to raise a son with a disability.  People can be truly curious about what is involved in his care, and how it influences the rest of the family.   She encounters people who are curious about her and her husband's reasons behind adopting a child with Down Syndrome, and she is happy to chat and share.  Also, she encounters people who are condescending, patronizing, and/or indicate their view that her son is somehow less than a person.  She encounters people who see her as foolish for choosing to give a home to a child with a disability while so many other healthy children need homes as well, as if a healthy child is more deserving of a loving home.

I have children born in Ethiopia.  Some people are curious why we adopted internationally, why we adopted black kids, what it's like to have kids that don't "match" us, if we plan to give birth at some point, etc.  I'm willing and open to discussing those questions.  Other people are critical of our decision, openly prejudice, mean, and purposefully offensive.  Someone once told us to only adopt from such-and-such a tribe from Ethiopia because "they are a higher class" of person.  Pardon me while I claw your eyes out.  (Actually, I walked away without opening my mouth.)

Here's the thing:

There is a time and place to educate and to change people's perspective.  I can talk about adoption until I am blue in the face, I can help you understand and process some of what an adoptive family is face with.  I can talk you through the steps, the decisions, the considerations and the outcome of each phase of the process.  However, if someone is hostile towards me, it will do me no good to try and have a reasonable conversation with them.  My only recourse is to live my life and show by my life what a family can be.   

My friend can tell you all about Down Syndrome, the challenges she faces, and all about her son's amazing contribution to their family.   However, if someone is dead-set on seeing her son as less valuable than other members of society, she can talk until kingdom-come without any positive results.  It is not the time or place to educate someone who is hostile.  Change begins elsewhere.  

In my perspective, it does no good for my son to defend himself against an entity (police or otherwise) that is adamant to see him guilty for something, even if it's just his black skin. If and when he is stopped by the police and treated with disrespect, antagonism, rudeness and condescension, I do not believe that is the time to assert his rights.  It is not the time or place to educate the assaulting parties.  It is the time for him to ride the storm and put up with their ignorance.  He must realize that he is not who they are assuming him to be.  

It is not helpful for him to have a snarky response, stubbornly refuse to cooperate, or show them all just how equal of a person he is.  In fact, if he did these things, it would serve to confirm the aggressor's prejudice.  Many prejudice people assume that blacks are incapable of following instruction and heeding authority, thus resulting in trouble.  If my son were to refuse to follow instruction and was heedless of the authorities (right or wrong) around him, he confirms their prejudices and perpetuates the problem.  However, if he responds to the aggressive authority with poise, politeness, humility and grace, he will fly in the face of everything they expect of him.  

If you are around me for any length of time, you will probably hear me say that it matters less what happens to you; it matters most how you respond to your circumstances.  I will endeavor to train my children to be respectful, dignified, decent, honorable people with integrity in every circumstance.  We live in a world where there are hateful, racist, bigoted, and willfully ignorant people, or "pigs" as my cousin's friend commented.  It is an unfortunate fact.  I desire my children to act within that world in such a way that no one, (black, white, or pink with a curly tail), can bring a legitimate accusation against them.  I want them to rise above the hate directed towards them and not stoop to engage in a conflict that is unprofitable in the moment.  

Please hear me, I am not saying that we stand by and do nothing.  It is not right that our children are treated this way and that we live in fear for their lives.  People are wrong for the assumptions and comments they make.  Yes, I would love nothing more than to use some of my martial arts training to discombobulate those that make derogatory remarks about my children's skin color. I am saying, however, that change begins elsewhere.  It begins with defying the common stereotypes.  It begins with educating people who will listen.  It begins with living above reproach in a way that, when there are accusations, there are no grounds to legitimize them.  It begins with being different than what they expect, different than the stereotype. 

I understand that many of my readers do not share my belief in Jesus the Messiah.  However, since my faith is all important in my life, I will also share my perspective based on Scripture.  Jesus taught and lived this very thing that we are discussing.

In regards to our faith, and living a life pleasing to God, we are taught to "[keep] a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3)

Jesus taught us and said, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5)

Jesus doesn't leave room for personal rights or pride.  He taught and modeled a life that is counterintuitive to our natural responses.  He taught us to live our lives dedicated to the Father regardless of personal cost.  Indeed, this was not just a theory to Him, but he lived it out until death. (Mark 14:53-15:32)
My Little Man washing the dishes

If neither I nor my children have rights in regards to our lives, surely this also encompasses our skin color.  Whether we are being harassed because we believe in Jesus or we are criticized because we adopted instead of giving birth, or have children with disabilities, or because of our social/economic status or our race or ethnicity or any choices we have made on our lives that people could question or would set us apart, my response and that of my children must remain the same.  It is better to be wronged.

So, yes, I will be teaching my son to be proud of his Ethiopian heritage.  I will teach him to hold his head up, dress well, present himself with dignity, be respectful and respectable, and be a positive part of his community, both black and white, American and Ethiopian.  I will push him into every Ethiopian dance class and martial arts class I can as soon as he is old enough, and will teach him when it's acceptable to fight and how to have self control and healthy self-respect.  I will teach him how to interact within our community to limit the chances of him becoming a statistic.  I love the idea in the article about introducing him to the police in our town.  I think that's a great opportunity for both him and the officers. 

More Rice Pudding, Mama?
I will also be teaching him that we live in a messed up world.  That there are people out there that refuse to see him in any other way than through negative prejudices.  These are the people we live around, but their assumptions are not accurate or true.  We cannot change them in a day, a moment, an encounter.  We will only change them by living in a way that is above reproach regardless of the consequences. 

My son is a good boy, and hopefully will become a good man.  His circumstances cannot define who he is, but the decisions he makes in the midst of those circumstances will show him to be a stellar man of integrity and humility or one full or pride and self-importance.  

I understand that not every mother out there will understand or share my perspective.  Indeed, my perspective may change over time.  But for now, this is where I find myself landing in this whole debate, and I hope that my children will be the better people for it in the end.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you're processing this topic. And I love that you brought it all back to Jesus. You're beginning to sound like someone else I know who blogs. ;-)